Sunday, May 30, 2010

People from high school who are more successful than me

And this is film-related

I started rooting around on Facebook, looking for old high school friends. Hit paydirt. Found one guy who had "friended" a bunch of other people I had known. Well. People I had sort of known.

I knew them in junior high. I would hang around with them at school. They were actors---creative types. I thought I was part of their group. But they'd start talking about the parties they had on the weekends. They never mentioned any parties in front of me until after the fact.

I don't know how much it bothered me at the time.

There was an episode of Dragnet where a teenager crashes a party with a hand grenade: "They never invite me to their stupid parties! Turn on the music! Dance! Dance!"

That always seemed absurd to me. That and all the comedies about teenagers trying to become popular.

The school had two lunch periods. So the group arranged their schedules so they'd all have second lunch so they could hang around together. They somehow neglected to tell me. I ended up with first lunch.

Now where are they

Well. They all look old now. All seem to be fairly successful. They were bourgeois to begin with. Half of them had university professors for parents. There's not much social mobility in America, up or down. I'm surprised at the careers some of them chose. One was an actor in high school, part of that clique. Now works on rural water planning.

Another one started out in high school as an actor type, then he became a conservative columnist on the school paper. Said we should all be drafted. He wanted mandatory military service. He thought teenagers owed it to America---he didn't say why. Of course, he never joined the army himself. He didn't spell it out in his profile, but I think he's gay now.

There was another one. Runs a graphic design business in Europe. His parents were bourgeois creative types. They did things like they gave him a hundred bucks a year to invest in the stock market when he was in grade school. You could buy a pretty good used car for $100 back then.

In high school, his parents apparently gave him about a thousand bucks to make a movie. That was in the late '70s. Shot in 16mm. A short film. Not really worth it. He and his friends stole routines from Monty Python and old Rainier Beer commercials. The film went over quite well at the school talent show. Kids today would shoot it on video and not think twice about it---back then, it was a major undertaking.

And there was another guy...

He's bald now. I'll call him "AP". He was an actor in high school. He starred in every play the school put on.

I had a friend who kept trying out for plays and was either rejected or got small roles. My friend lived in a run down rental house with his single mother. He was angry that AP got his choice of roles in every single production.

One time, AP and his wealthy family were touring Europe during the tryouts. Fine! My friend tried out for a role thinking he had a chance now! But AP came back long after the try-outs were done, and the stinking teacher STILL cast him in the lead.

Now that rich bastard is running a theater, directing, writing plays. There's a lot about him on the internet. Doing a lot of plays based on the work of an Israeli author. Turns out he's friends with Stephen Colbert. There was an article which presented him as a colorful character because he went to a library housing rare books and he casually flipped through the pages of a centuries-old copy of a work by Shakespeare. Those frumpy old librarians failed to recognize his genius and stopped him from damaging it.

At least the high school drama teacher got what he deserved: Unemployment. They cut that rotten bastard's job.

It turned out that the teacher was a movie actor himself! Appeared in what by all accounts was a TERRIBLE low budget "western". About an environmentally conscious cowboy who rides around on a buffalo. The cowboy goes into a saloon. The other cowboys pick on him because he rides a buffalo. So a fight starts and the buffalo comes in and beats up the bad cowboys.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

And now Dennis Hopper

Dead at 74.

I think Hopper became a Bush supporter. Like Jon Voight.

Here's a clip from the right-wing "comedy" he made, An American Carol, directed by Zionist David Zucker, with Jon Voight and Kelsey Grammar:

Perhaps not surprisingly, even critics in the right-wing press thought it stunk. It was promoted by Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck.

Well, it's probably rude to talk about Hopper's failures now that he's dead. Although it might also be rude to talk about what he came to regard as his shameful past as a counter-culture type. Is it polite to talk about the druggie days of a reformed drug addict?

Bush himself said that no one could talk about anything he did before the age of 40, or whenever it was that he became born again.

Truth is though that there was a stodginess about a lot of people in the counter-culture. A lot of them were basically conservative. There was a scholarly biography of Jack Kerouac which focused on this very thing. Hopper's father worked for the OSS---the precursor to the CIA---and he grew up in very conservative towns---Dodge City, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; San Diego and Los Angeles, California.

He said he voted for Obama only because he didn't like Sarah Palin.

I know an artist who knew Hopper in L.A. back in the early '60s. Hopper was working as an artist. They had studios in the same building. Hopper would ask him to look at his work.

"Gee, Dennis. I think Jackson Pollock already did that," he would say.

Hopper's work tended to be rather derivative.

You might look at Charles Bukowski's novel, Hollywood, about the making of Barfly. Bukowski was friends with Sean Penn who apparently hated Barbet Schroder, and poor Hank and Linda Bukowski were in the middle of this.

As I recall, Hopper came over to Bukowski's house. Sean Penn was there. They were drinking except for Dennis Hopper, of course. Linda told Hopper she admired him for getting off drugs. Hopper laughed more than he should have at something. When he left, Barbet was angry. "Did you see that fake laughing!" Linda said it wasn't easy being the only one not drinking and Hank didn't seem to understand Barbet's problem.

Barbet Schroder wanted to make the movie, but Sean Penn was supposed to star in it, but Penn would only do it if Hopper directed.

In the end, Mickey Rourke starred and Barbet directed.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gary Coleman

Years ago, some friends came over. They wanted to annoy me. They did that now and then. They would come up with some plan, something they thought would get my goat. Then they'd come over and started talking to me, telling me something that was supposed to bother me.

On this occasion, they came over and told me that Gary Coleman was more successful than me even though I was five years older than him.

"Pretty much everybody is more successful that me," I said. "He was more successful than me when he was six."

They hung around for a while and then went away disappointed. I don't know why they thought that would bother me.

And today I heard the news that Gary Coleman had died at age 42.

I can't think of a child star who was exploited worse than he was. He said he wouldn't wish the first fifteen years of his life on his worse enemy. The last twenty-seven years were no picnic either.

He had health problems all his life. He was cruelly exploited by everyone involved in his career, including his own parents who had adopted him as a baby. They would lecture him----he was spending too much on his model trains----while they lived off his labor.

The first time I saw him on TV that I remember was on Fernwood Tonight. A lot of people appeared on that show who went on to bigger things. Robin Williams, Jim Varney. Even the children. There was Gary Coleman playing Martin Mull's son. There was Corey Feldman and Noah Hathaway. Coleman was at ease on the show. Completely natural. He sat on Martin Mull's lap, and Mull made a quip about how the audience couldn't see him.

"You want me to move?" Coleman said.

Well, that's a shame. He deserved so much better than he got.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Art Linkletter

I was going to post a link to John Waters' short film "The Diane Linkletter Story". It was posted on YouTube. Now gone. Removed because John Waters made a copyright claim. He didn't mind mocking the death of a young woman, but he can't abide copyright infringement.

Waters may have wanted it taken down because he felt bad about it. He expressed regret over a movie he made about the Tate-LaBianca murders. Was it Multiple Maniacs? The matter came up because he was calling for a member of the Manson family he befriended to be paroled (and he made a pretty good case for it.)

But Waters has said that he has no sympathy for Art Linkletter.

Linkletter's 20-year-old daughter, Diane, committed suicide in 1969 by jumping out the window of her 6th floor apartment. She was deeply depressed about her life, that she was unable to achieve anything out of the shadow of her famous father. That's what she told the fellow who was with her. But Art decided it would be a good idea to blame it all on drugs. He claimed she was on LSD at the time, that she panicked and jumped out the window. When the autopsy revealed there were no drugs at all in her system, Art said she panicked because she was having an LSD flashback.

The eyewitness who had been talking with her for hours before she killed herself said no such thing. In fact, there was no evidence at all that she had ever taken any illegal drug ever, at any time in her life. The only "evidence" she did was that Art Linkletter said she did.

Art Linkletter says the darndest things

Linkletter had that show on TV. Was it actually called Kids Say The Darnedest Things?

I had only seen one episode. I was 4 or 5 years old. Linkletter asked the kids, "What do your parents hit you with?"

All I remember was a little girl saying, "A spoon." And Art Linkletter acting like this was the darnedest thing he'd ever heard.

The show was scripted. A fraud. Like Linkletter himself. The kid who went on to play Little Ricky on I Love Lucy appeared on it. He was ordered to say that Santa comes to his house in a Cadillac. It was the darnedest thing Art Linkletter could think of.

But why?

I'm not sure why I'm attacking Art Linkletter. The poor guy's dead. He was extremely old. A friend and contemporary of Ozzie Nelson. They both believed that their personality on the radio and TV should be about the same as they were in real life. Worked pretty well for them. They were the antecedents to Jerry Seinfeld, Woody Allen, Larry David...all those guys.

Since I just posted a blog about an old friend who died of a drug overdose, you'd think I'd be more sympathetic to Linkletter's anti-drug thing.

Come to think of it, David Lochary, who played Art Linkletter in Waters' movie, died of an overdose of PCP in 1977.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A punk rocker I used to know

Well, it's not cinema, but it could have been if they had played their cards right.

In the 1980s, I worked in an drug and alcoholism treatment center. Many of the employees were recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. And one of them was a fellow I had known in junior high school. I'll call him X.

I remember X before he knew anything about drugs. We were in the 7th grade and an older kid in art class drew a picture of a bong, of a bong in use. I assumed it was something like a burrito. The drawing wasn't clear. I wasn't going to admit I didn't know. But X showed greater intellectual curiosity and demanded an explanation. "What's a bong? What is it? Do you know what it is? What's a bong?"

A couple of years later, we were still in junior high. X had drawn a diagram. He had a built-in desk in his bedroom. He took out the drawers, put in false drawer fronts, and placed a marijuana plant and some plant lights in the empty space. All carefully arranged so his mother wouldn't find it.

In the '80s, X had gone through treatment for drug addiction. He seemed happy, and like most recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, he was very nice. Alcoholics and drug addicts are horrible, horrible people when they're on drugs or on the sauce. But when they get off it, when they go through treatment, are the nicest people you'll ever meet.

The band

X was in a punk rock band at the time he was working at the treatment center.

I had brothers and a sister who were musicians in school, so when someone I knew was performing, I had the idea that I should go hear them no matter how little interest I had.

So I went to hear X's band.

I was completely out of place. It was in the basement of an old house. It was an unfinished basement. Meaning, in this case, that floors and most of the walls seemed to be made of dirt.

X was in his mid-20s. He had long hair which was thinning on top.

The rest of the band? I remember three of them.

They had two singers. One was tall and slender. Probably 15 or 16. I couldn't tell. The other was 14. He was little, cute, blond. Walked around smiling and he would say "Fuck you," to people he passed. He came in and some young women hugged him. He was adorable and the girls wanted to mother him. They thought he was a cute little boy---he thought he was Cary Grant. I thought it was strange that his parents let him do this. For one thing, the seam on the side of his pants were torn---it was fashionable among punk rockers at the time. You could see his underwear. His parents let him out of the house like that? I imagined his mother saying, "Honey, put on your good pants."

There was another guy who was a drummer? A bass player? He had the sides of his head shaved. He looked to me to be 15 or 16. I later saw him playing miniature golf with his mother and little sister. Made him seem like less of a rebel.

Anyway, they performed. The people started "dancing" which meant smashing into each other.

The young kid singer began drinking a large bottle of Coke. He drank with gusto, although he complained that it was flat. Seemed odd. Someone explained later that it was likely spiked with alcohol.

The kid sang a song. The lyrics seemed to be "I say ____ fuck!" over and over. I couldn't understand the word I left blank. Two syllables. And, apparently no one else could understand it, either. Because the kid would be singing this, screaming it into the microphone, and then he would scream "And you say---" then he'd stick the mic in the face of an audience member expecting him to yell the lyric, whatever it was. They would hesitate very slightly, mumble the first word and say the second word plainly.

How he ended up

I wondered whatever happened to X. I knew he had relapsed at one point and started taking drugs again. One of the other people I worked with had seen him dumpster diving. He called, "X! Hey X!"

X seemed enraged and yelled obscenities.

"Okay, X!" the guy smiled and waved.

I started doing some internet searches for him. He wasn't on Facebook. I found nothing.

I finally found out what happened to him. It dawned on me to do a search for his band. I found it on My Space. I listened to a few "tunes". They had a certain appeal. Having a singer whose voice hadn't changed gave it an interesting sound.

But the band had no future. You can't get a record deal when your singer is a teenage runaway. It said that the band broke up when the kid got in trouble and was sent home to his parents in another state.

The kid had a MySpace page, too. He's 38 now.

The other singer now works as a caterer. One of the others went on to play with another band and had gone on tour with them for a couple of years.

And X. I found out what happened to him. He died of a drug overdose in the 1990s.

He was like most drug addicts----an extremely nice person when he was off drugs, but horrible when he was using. He had been a very nice kid when I knew him in school.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I didn't actually watch it. It was on TV in the next room. And it sounded terrible!

The investigation consisted of them going around and directly asking people if they did it.

Here is some actual dialog (to the best of my recollection)---

"Did you rape her?"


"Why should I believe you?"

"Because it's the truth."

There was some "wit" in it. One of the fellows couldn't understand why the woman wouldn't report it if she was raped. The woman investigator said she wouldn't report it, either. She would torture the rapist.

Of course, if she could capture and torture the fellow so readily, how would he be able to rape her in the first place?

A terrible show. Just terrible.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Breaking Bad

Breaking bad. Breaking bad. Not a bad show. Bryan Cranston stars as high school chemistry teacher. He has cancer. He wants to leave his family money if he doesn't survive. So he starts producing meth.

Now they're in trouble. They have to produce meth and plenty of it. And they have no margin of error. Not with the violent criminals they're dealing with. If they don't get it done, they're finished.

Reminds me a little of a pretty good Russian movie I saw recently. I don't know how long ago it was made. With a great Soviet comic actor appearing uncredited.

It was inspired, apparently, by Pulp Fiction---it was that sort of thing.

A couple of young fellows in Russia have a suitcase full of heroin stolen from them. They track it down. They go to the first person they suspect, torture him until he directs them to the next person, then they kill him and go to the next one and do the same thing.

In the end---this is a spoiler now---one of the fellows is shot. They bring in a doctor who must get the bullet out. He does this without anesthesia. He does this without anesthesia even though they now have an entire suitcase full of heroin. Couldn't they give him a little?

In the same way, couldn't the guys in Breaking Bad work round the clock producing meth if only they would use some of the meth they were producing?

Right now on the show, they're screwing around trying to kill a fly in the lab. It sounds like they need to get to work.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

More reviews of Precious on Konch Magazine

There were a few interesting reviews of Precious on Ishmael Reed's online Konch Magazine.

I haven't actually seen the movie. Maybe if I did, I'd like it. Maybe I wouldn't think it was the least bit racist. I doubt it, but it wouldn't be impossible.

Hariette Surovell writes a long review, very interesting. Discusses the racist elements of the movie, of course, and also goes into just how bad it is otherwise. Anachronisms abound. It's set in 1987, but Bill Clinton is president of the United States. And she points out how lousy the writing is.
... Her first child, a girl with Down Syndrome (or, as Precious informs someone, “ Sinder”-- an arbitrary and completely false note--why would she not know the word “syndrome”?...

Despite being so illiterate that she is unable to read a sentence from a children’s book, Precious is a “ninfe”-grader, who is “good with numbers” (except, apparently, the number “nine.”) ...All the other students in Precious’ math class are not only svelte, they are fashionable and attractive…

Isn’t there anyone as unattractive as Precious out there? Not even one other overweight person in Harlem, other than Mary?....

When the principal, Mrs. Lichtenstein, calls Precious to the office. Points out that she is pregnant with her second child. "The audience is confused," Surovell writes, "how ever could she tell?"

Precious tries to attack the principal and flees the school.
We hear Precious’ thought process, such as it is. Not, “Oh no, I’m in real trouble now, I tried to attack the principal and she called the guards on me” but:

“Nosy ass white bitch mad ‘cause
she can’t come over my house.
I don’t be coming to this
bitch’s house in Weschesser.”

I didn’t buy it. First of all, why would she think she would be entitled to visit the principal in her home under any circumstances? Secondly, how would she ascertain that Mrs. Lichtenstein lives in “Weschesser”? Precious doesn’t know the word “syndrome”, even though she is the mother to a Down Syndrome child. It’s all illogical, arbitrary writing, i.e., bad writing.

The principal tries to get Precious to enroll in an alternative school:
Precious doesn’t know what the word “alternative” means (why not?), and Mary wants her to stay home and collect Welfare, but Precious is nonetheless inspired to go. We’re not quite sure why she is so determined to take advice from a principal whose lily-white ass she so recently wanted to kick. The confusion mounts when about ten minutes of screen time is devoted to Precious making numerous attempts to discover the meaning of the word “alternative” (an office worker finally fills her in.) Why did she want to go there so badly if she didn’t even know what it was?

Precious enrolls in her new school. In just a few months, she goes from being unable to recognize the letter E to being "so super-literate that she is asked to explain what Ms. Rain means when she discusses 'a protagonist’s unrelenting circumstances.'"

The teacher writes notes to Precious:
“Dear Precious, You are not a dog. “ (Whew! Whatta relief. I was worried for a while…) “You are a wonderful young woman who is trying to make something of her life.

"I have some questions for you.

"1. Where was your grandmother
when your father was abusing you?

"2. Where is Little Mongo now?”

I had some thoughts about this, too. I wondered, ‘One, where has Ms. Rain been throughout all this?’ and ‘Two, why is Ms. Rain deliberately disobeying the New York City law mandating that teachers report suspected child abuse cases to the authorities?’

And when Precious tells her new social worker played by Mariah Carey that her babies were fathered by their grandfather:
Mrs. Weiss looks startled (as startled as Mariah Carey playing a social worker, or, well, playing anybody, can look), but does nothing. She doesn’t make an effort to locate Precious’ father, nor does she talk to the police or the district attorney’s office about getting a warrant out for his arrest, because in Movieland Harlem, fathers can impregnate their daughters repeatedly without legal consequences.

Check out the review, and check out the link to Hariette Surovell's website.

I don't if that link is working. You may have to copy and paste.

Sandra Goodridge's review

Sandra Goodridge worked in the social service system of New York, with victims of crime, abuse and incest and was offended at how such people were portrayed.

The tragedy of this film, Precious, is multitudinous. In the clumsy and greedy hands of Sapphire and Lee Daniels a number of weighty social issues: mental illness, incest, poverty, child-protection, social service delivery systems, race and caste are all given the short-shrift in exchange for some simplistic, "shock and awe" drive-'em-to-the-box-office filmmaking. The film’s plot was slight and the character development of the principals (Precious, her mother, abusive father and nurse characters) were nascent. Film-makers were too busy manipulating the audience to pity Precious and indulge in layers of whiny victimization. This was clearly more important that telling a complex, multi-faceted story of redemption, hope and true recovery.

She tells about an unpleasant encounter with Sapphire, the author of the novel the movie is based on, at Hunter College. An interesting review.

Two movies I haven't seen and an episode of Hill Street Blues

There was sort of a mini-Precious in the middle of an episode of Hill Street Blues.

Renko and Bobby Hill (hey! Isn't that the kid on King of the Hill!) go on a call. An impoverished black family. The mother is holding her unemployed husband and teenage daughter at bay with a butcher knife. The daughter is topless, holding a towel in front of her. It seems the young lady's stepfather has been molesting her. Renko wants to arrest the stepfather and the mother. But Bobby Hill instead starts yelling at them. Stop threating your husband and daughter with a butcher knife! And you there! Stop molesting your stepdaughter! And for God's sake! Put your shirt on! How do you expect your poor stepfather to control himself!

You would never see anything like that on TV with a white family.

It was, in my opinion, a variation on the old stereotype that Southern whites knew how to control black people, but northern whites were ineffectual. You can see it in the old movie, The Prisoner of Shark Island, if you're interested.

The new version of the stereotype was that nominally successful formerly working class blacks knew how to deal with poor blacks, but poor blacks wouldn't listen to whites or bourgeois black.

That was the stereotype in those days exemplified by the movie Lean On Me, the "true" story of moronic thug Joe Clark, praised by the Reagan administration for threatening black teenagers with a baseball bat at the high school where he was principal.

At least Precious went against this stereotype, although the one it used in its place may not have been any better. The black social worker in it was worthless. It was bourgeois whites and blacks who rescue Precious.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Terrible movies

So many terrible movies.

Terrible, terrible movies.

I feel so sorry for the miserable souls who made them.

Then I watch a movie and I feel sorry for the miserable souls who made them and appeared in them. And then it turns out that everyone liked it but me.

This happened one time. I was at some sort of anti-drug rally. I was against the war on drugs. I was also against drugs. I was against both sides. Kind of like the Falklands War.

They had several speakers. The final one was this school counselor who screamed his speech in a high pitched screech. I only remember a couple of snippets. One was, "...WE'VE GOT TO BLOW UP THE TV SET..." and "...GET REAL, MAN! IT'S NOT GONNA HAPPEN!" And then he told us that his son brought a "progress report" home from school. "...I SAID, 'DON'T YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU!!!!'"

It was embarrassing. I couldn't stand it. I walked around. I stepped outside. I came back. And when the guy finished, the audience applauded wildly. The rubes loved it.

Somebody told me that Stephen King advised writers to submit everything they write, because there's no telling what publishers will like. I don't know if King really said it, but I guess it makes sense. I can't judge what's embarrassing and what's a deeply moving speech.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Roger Ebert attacks 3D

It's the waste of a good dimension

Ebert wrote a pretty good article attacking 3D. Published in Newsweek and available here:

He didn't mention that binocular vision is only used to judge distances up to about 12 feet. Beyond that people use other visual cues. This means that for anything more than 12 feet from the camera, 3d is unrealistic.

He's right, though. Hard to imagine anything but crap being made in 3D. And, anyway, didn't we already have 3D? I haven't seen any of the current 3D movies, but are they really better than the 3D movies I saw in the '80s? I mean, is the 3D effect any better.

Lenny Lipton

One thing that surprises me is Lenny Lipton. Ebert says he is "known as the father of the electronic stereoscopic-display industry".

Lenny Lipton? The same one who wrote Independent Film Making? He was a hippie. Advocated art film. Scoffed at Hollywood. Was bemused that filmmakers wanted to record dialog. He wrote a book on Super 8 film making and he called on readers to shoot at 18 fps. And now HE'S responsible for this?

It just seems a little surprising. I guess it shouldn't. He was really into the technical side of it.

Video, 16mm film, digital photography, Andy Warhol

I don't know how I feel about it. With video now. Anybody can make a movie.

I read that photographers are having a hard time earning a living now. And people posting their digital pictures on Flickr are making money. People are paying them to use their work.

I attended a political protest recently. I didn't want to be associated with either the protesters or the people being protested, so I was disturbed at all the cameras. I couldn't stay out of the line of fire. EVERYBODY had a digital camera, and if they didn't have a digital camera they had a cell phone with a built-in camera.

I remember the old days. I'd go to a rally and I'd be the only one taking pictures.

I don't know if it's good or bad. Digital photography is easier and cheaper, but it seems like photography is no longer an art form, or at least it's been diminished as an art form.

In the same way, there was a time when an extreme low-budget movie was really something. They'd cost you about $6,000. Some weren't very good, but you had to admire them. Now you have $100.00 movies.

Now, here's my suggestion. Look at the movies of Andy Warhol.

He did portraits on movie film. The person would sit there and pose and they'd turn the movie camera on and run it for 12 minutes. The rationale for this nonsense was that no one could hold a fake pose for that long. After five minutes, you'd see the "real" person. No fake expression. And this was "art".

So would it be less of a work of art if you did it on video? If you shot it on a high resolution DSLR? The resolution could be as high as 16mm.